Managing Employees’ Public Conduct & Social Media Activity
Never before has our society experienced so much controversial public conduct that has gone viral. Whether it is something done in person or something posted on social media, the actions of employees can have significant consequences for their employers. The vast reach of the internet means that connecting bad actors to the companies they work for is easy to do and will exist, possibly forever, in the digital universe. As a result, companies need to try and influence their employees to moderate their off-duty public activities.
Often, social media acts as a catalyst for influencing inappropriate or illegal personal conduct. Consequently, employers need to have a comprehensive social media policy that provides guidance about what is acceptable and what is definitely not acceptable online behavior.
Sometimes, though, it is in-person “in real life” activity gets out of hand. The method to provide guidance about IRL behavior is to create a company Code of Conduct that outlines the expectations for the company and its employees.
For instance, harassment and bullying are bad behaviors that can occur online or in person, and in either case, are unacceptable – even if they happen to be legal. Having both a Social Media policy and a Code of Conduct will cover most situations that arise. These policies allow companies to educate employees about acceptable behavior and put employees on notice of possible consequences for unacceptable conduct. Code of Conduct policies are more evergreen and will not require frequent updates, but Social Media policies should be reviewed at least every other year.
If an employee is involved in an unfortunate public incident that violates company policy, companies should have a public statement ready. In order to respond quickly, having a pre-written, customizable, template is important. The company’s public statement should distance it from the unlawful or inappropriate conduct and should unequivocally denounce the employee’s actions. Often a public outcry to terminate the employee will occur, but few details should be shared about the employee’s status. If the employee is terminated, simply state that the person is no longer affiliated with the company. If the employee is only disciplined but not terminated, say only that this is a confidential employment matter and cannot be discussed publicly.
Note that the First Amendment does not protect employee speech. The First Amendment addresses government regulation of speech, so if the company is not a government entity, the employees cannot claim a First Amendment right to protect their speech.
PRINTING United Alliance has prepared customizable sample policies for a Code of Conduct, Social Media Policy & Guidelines, and a Company Public Statement. The templates reflect the protections that the National Labor Relations Act provide for employee speech involving union organizing. The templates are a members-only resource which can be found on the new Center for Human Resources Support page at CHRS.
Adriane Harrison is the Vice President of Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance, the most comprehensive member-based printing and graphic arts association in the United States. PRINTING United Alliance members have exclusive access to preeminent education; training; workshops; events; research; governmental and legislative representation; safety and environmental sustainability guidance; and resources from the leading media company in the industry – NAPCO Media.
In this article, Harrison addresses Managing Employees’ Public Conduct and Social Media Activity. More information on this topic can be found at CHRS or reach out to Ms. Harrison should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business: email@example.com.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how PRINTING United Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adriane Harrison is Vice President, Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance. Adriane assists members with a wide variety of HR matters involving statutes, regulations, policies, procedures, culture, and staffing, as well as the gamut of day-to-day HR issues. In addition, she supports professional development by conducting webinars, participating in panel discussions, and speaking at industry events on human resources issues. Currently, Adriane is the Chairperson of the Graphic Communications Workforce Coalition, a member of the Women in Print Alliance, and a founder of the Women’s Print Mentoring Network.
Adriane received a journalism degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago. As an attorney, Adriane practiced in both the public and private sectors. Her work was in the areas of Constitutional, commercial, securities, and criminal law. Adriane and her family live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.